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New round of Guardian International Development Journalism competition

March 19, 2010

Did you miss out on last year’s DFID Guardian competition? Well now you’ve got another chance. The 2010 competition is now open, with a whole new set of themes and a deadline of 30 April, 2010. The shortlist will be announced in July, and the journalists on the short list will take their trips to Africa and Asia to write a new story in September and October. The winner will be announced in November and the Guardian will publish a special supplement with all the winning entries.

The challenge is to write a feature of 650 to 1,000 words by 30 April on an aspect of global poverty that deserves greater media exposure. The 16 best writers (eight amateur, eight professional) will be selected from a longlist of around 40 entrants, all of whom will have their articles published online at guardian.co.uk.

This year’s judges will include:

Elizabeth Ford, editor, Katine website, the Guardian
Richard Kavuma, projects editor, The Weekly Observer, Uganda
Elisabeth Ribbans, managing editor, the Guardian
Jon Snow, newsreader, Channel 4
Behrouz Afagh, head, Asia and Pacific region, BBC World Service
Chaired by: Sue George, editor, the Guardian International Development Journalism Competition

To enter the competition, you need to write a 650 to 1,000 word feature on one of these 16 themes:

  • Disability and development
  • Family Planning: Contraceptive Supplies Shortages
  • Global health care
  • Has aid restricted Africa’s ability to grow?
  • Hearing impairment
  • Millennium Development Goal 5: Safe Motherhood
  • Mobilising campaigners for disability and development
  • Poor peoples’ security and justice
  • The economic cost of blindness
  • The Effect of Climate Change on Insect-borne Diseases
  • The impact of arms on development
  • The impact of hygiene on education
  • The need for a child survival revolution
  • The right to learn
  • The Role of Mass Net Distributions in the Fight Against Malaria
  • What has prevented Africa from becoming an economic power?

So what are you waiting for?

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The journalism balancing act – views for and against

February 19, 2010

How many times have you been enjoying reading an interesting article and then, just one paragraph from the end, up pops a comment that opposes everything that’s gone before… and that’s it, end of story.

Most editors like nothing better than a bulging post bag of letters from their readers, responding to articles. But often they encourage their journalists to prevent accusations of bias by seeking out a comment from someone with an opposing viewpoint, in order to say that they’ve presented a ‘balanced’ picture. No one writing a story about how the earth is round would feel it necessary to include a final comment from the Flat Earth Society spokesperson. Where a story is controversial and there genuinely is no definitive answer there is good reason to cover ‘the other side’ of that story, but some ‘balancing’ comments are not just pointless, but damaging. The long-running saga in the UK about the MMR vaccine was prolonged by precisely this kind of journalism.

So how can you get the balance right?

This week a guest blog on Not Exactly Rocket Science makes a useful distinction between getting an ‘outside perspective’ and an ‘opposing view’. Written by Ivan Oransky, executive editor at Reuters Health and a medical journalism teacher at New York University, How to avoid “he-said-she-said” science journalism offers tips on getting valuable additions to a story, and a few examples.

From the researcher’s point of view, it’s a useful thing to remember when you are writing your own press releases. Think about who else in this field is going to say that your findings are wrong, and tackle their arguments head-on. Tell the journalist up front which researchers think differently, why they do so, and why you think they are wrong. You might just prevent the appearance of a token and misleading ‘opposing view’ in an article about your work.

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Finding the right photo

February 14, 2010

Although it has become much easier for researchers to photograph their work (and see our earlier blog about how to take better digital photos), quite often we need the photograph that the researcher didn’t take. If you are going to print a large image, for example for a cover, a snap from an ordinary digital camera is rarely good enough. Or perhaps you’ve got lots of photos of rural agriculture, but you don’t have an urban market shot to provide the rest of the story. Or perhaps you have none at all…

As ever, you’ll get the best results if you plan ahead and budget.

With so many photo stock agencies online it’s tempting to just do it yourself; log in, use a few search words, and start browsing. Do set yourself a time limit, however, as this shortcut can often cost you many hours. The most popular online stock photo sites these days are iStock, Shutterstock, Dreamstime, Fotolia, 123rf, and BigStockPhoto.  Be aware, however, that stock photographs are usually very generic, and often better suited to tourism and commercial advertising than to the subjects that development research usually covers. They can be very useful when you want an attractive photo with the country’s flag flying, and sometimes you can even find this type of photo in the agencies ‘free stock’ section. iStock, owned by Getty Images, has recently done a deal with Flickr that has given them some more unusual stock from around the world. But to get a good photograph of a rural health centre in Malawi treating children… you will need to go to the specialists.

Photo agencies have experienced researchers who will search through their thousands of photos to give you a shortlist of photos to choose from, and this service is often free. To get an accurate quote and enable the researcher to provide you with the most appropriate selection give them as much information as you can: the country and general topic of your publication; how many copies you will be printing; whether they will be free, for sale, or online only; and whether your design requires more portrait (upright) or landscape (horizontal) photos. If you can provide an abstract or executive summary of your publication plus all the relevant keywords then the researcher can filter their stock to really suit your needs. And these days you don’t need to be in a Western capital city to get this great service, because the agency can email you a selection of low-resolution images to choose from. Once you’ve chosen and paid, the agency sends you the high-resolution images. If you prefer to browse yourself, all the agencies’ sites have that option (although on some you need to register first). Don’t assume you can’t afford the big agencies either. Make sure they’ve got all the details about your subject and your circulation and dissemination plans; small-scale  charitable projects can often get a good deal. It’s particularly worth paying more than usual for a professional cover photo.

The British Association of Picture Libraries and Agencies provides this list of agencies who specialise in photos of the developing world.

The Open Directory website has a long list of agencies, of archive and stock libraries, and of photographers. Many are general or specialise in other areas such as sport of celebrities, but the lists include documentary and developing world specialists too.

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Getting health research into policy and practice

December 11, 2009

The DFID-funded Research Programme Consortia working on sexual and reproductive health, HIV and AIDS are trying to help solve some complicated problems. It’s not just that the drug treatments are new and changing all the time. There are many different potential strategies for preventing infection too, some for babies, some for children, some for adults. In addition to treating the disease – and the other diseases that so often co-infect people with HIV – they are trying to change behaviour and influence policy. A very tall order.

There are many peer-reviewed health journals, but there isn’t such a well-worn route to sharing the lessons that these consortia have learned about that other very tricky area – getting policy into practice. Jo Crichton from the Realising Rights RPC and Sally Theobald of Realising Rights and Addressing the Balance of Burden in AIDS (ABBA) recently co-edited an issue of ID21’s insights to highlight this very thing.

The insights issue focuses on innovative approaches to communicating research on sexual and reproductive health, HIV and AIDS globally. The articles are all based on case studies presented during a meeting at the Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, in the UK, in May 2009. (See also the briefing paper from that workshop, written by Sally, Jo and Olivia Tulloch from ABBA and Kate Hawkins from Realising Rights.)

Politics influences how open decision-makers are to using evidence-based research in formulating policy or making decisions. For example, in the field of sexual and reproductive health, social or religious attitudes and interest groups play a powerful role in politics and can encourage decision-makers to ignore new research evidence. The role of research in policy processes can also be hampered by weak capacity to assess and use research evidence or a lack of appreciation of how research can identify health problems and unmet needs, develop effective interventions, and improve the accessibility and targeting of services.

Researchers from many different research projects contributed articles to this issue, including Sinead Delany-Moretlwe, Eleanor Hutchinson, Johnny Gyapong, Wambura Mwita, Rose Oronje, Sabina Rashid, Nana Ole Lithur, and Kate Hawkins.

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New science policy blog at ‘New Scientist’

December 9, 2009

Roger Highfield, editor of New Scientist, has started a new blog, ‘The S Word’, covering science and policy.  Science policymaking for international development hasn’t appeared yet, but it’s early days. Log in – or perhaps that should be blog in – comment on his blogs, and send him your material!

From the blog:

Welcome to The S Word! This new online forum is where you’ll find New Scientist‘s coverage of science and policy – getting under the skin of politics to show how science is changing our world.

Why did we call it The S Word? Despite the central role that science plays in our world, politicians often seem reluctant to engage with it – in fact, many seem keen to avoid mentioning it at all. That results in policy-making that flies in the face of scientific evidence and serves us all badly.

New Scientist is among those who hope to persuade politicians that “the s word” belongs at the heart of political debate. This blog is our contribution to that effort.

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WikiHoles – Plugging the information gaps

December 6, 2009

Those of us with a good internet connection and questions to ask often turn to Wikipedia. It’s a useful reference tool in a number of ways, and is pretty reliable if you want to know how many provinces there are in Panama (nine, and five indigenous Comarcas), the demonym of people from St. Kitts (Kittitians), or the official name of a country, properly spelled (Republic of The Gambia, with a capital T). But there are big gaps. ‘Food miles’ has its own page, but ‘Fair miles’  does not. The article on the English town of Lyme Regis (population 4,500) is 2,525 words long,  but the article on Paramaribo (population 250,000), the capital city of Suriname, is 607 words long . Lyme is a very special place, it’s true, but Paramaribo certainly can’t be fully or fairly described in 607 words.

Mark Graham, a Research Fellow at the Oxford Internet Institute, has just blogged about and done some great maps illustrating the huge disparity in ‘geotagged’ articles on Wikipedia. He concedes that not all articles are appropriate for geotagging, but still – the relative lack of information about many regions is astonishing.

While the United States has almost 90,000 articles, Anguilla has 4, and most small island nations and city states have less than 100. He says that ‘Almost all of Africa is poorly represented in Wikipedia. Remarkably there are more Wikipedia articles written about Antarctica than all but one of the fifty-three countries in Africa (or perhaps even more amazingly, there are more Wikipedia articles written about the fictional places of Middle Earth and Discworld than about many countries in Africa, the Americas and Asia).’

Mark’s map of the number of articles per country really makes you think (and on his site he also maps for area and population).

Inevitably one of the reasons behind this disparity is the poor internet connectivity and lack of computers in most of the under-represented countries. According to the Internet World Stats website , Africa has 14.6% of the world’s population, but only 3.9% of its internet users.

While the number of articles about Africa and developing countries in general will grow as access increases, do make a space in your communications strategy to make sure that your partners’ institutions, their partners, and the key facts about your research issues have all got a home on Wikipedia. When a country has only got four articles, even one new one increases its presence by 20%!

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